The tenth annual Australian Reading Hour, presented by Australia Reads, exceeded expectations in 2021 with an unprecedented number of authors, illustrators, librarians, educators, booksellers, publishers, and Members of Parliament participating despite Covid-19 lockdowns across the ACT, NSW and Victoria.
Since its inception by local libraries a decade ago, Australian Reading Hour has become embraced as the nation’s official excuse to stop whatever it is we might be doing (work, study, home-schooling, zooming, binging) for an hour – on the same day each year – and rediscover the comfort and joy of reading a book.
SPARKING A CONVERSATION ABOUT LOCAL STORIES THAT MATTER
In 2021 Australian Reading Hour sparked a national conversation around the theme Stories That Matter with millions of Australians sharing their personal reflections on how the books we read and write help shape our sense of wellbeing, belonging and identity – as individuals and a community.
The resulting public conversations across social media (reaching 17.7 million accounts and trending on Twitter in 4th, 6th and 7th spots on the day) and at events in libraries, schools and bookshops around the country and online (for a total audience of around 80,000) have generated passionate ‘must-read’ recommendations featuring a fabulous variety of books for all ages by local Australian book creators.
SUPPORT FROM MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
The conversation about stories that matter continues to reverberate with a vital motion moved in the House of Representatives recognising the value of reading, especially in terms of its many mental health and social wellbeing benefits, and the impact of the pandemic on the local book industry.
The motion was moved by Susan Templeman MP on behalf of the Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Australian Books and Writers, Graham Perrett MP, seconded by Anne Stanley MP and supported by Celia Hammond MP, Bridget Archer MP, Josh Wilson MP, Katie Allen MP and Andrew Leigh MP.
In their speeches (see below) each MP praised Australian Reading Hour and name-checked the books and writers whose works have mattered to them and highlighted how reading can transform lives – from reducing stress, creating empathy and connection to shaping a sense of self, confidence and curiosity.
The speakers also acknowledged the critical role libraries play in fostering literacy and ensuring books are accessible to all; paid tribute to organisations showcasing writers and illustrators; and called for support to ensure the stories we write and read continue to fire imaginations, inspire future generations and better reflect and cherish our First Nations heritage, multicultural and LGBTQI+ communities.
OUR MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT ON AUSTRALIAN READING HOUR
‘My post sparked so many conversations between strangers who found something in common. It helped people find a connection with each other while we were being forced by a global pandemic to be physically apart… That is the beauty of books. That small interaction really was proof that books can be an escape from the worries of everyday life… and for a few precious minutes forget about home schooling or working from home or not working.’
Susan Templeman MP (Macquarie, NSW ALP)
‘The book which I was reading during Australian Reading Hour is without any doubt at all truly a story that matters: The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku, this is Eddie’s memoir, chronicling his extraordinary tale of survival… and dedicating his life to teaching about the dangers of intolerance and the importance of hope… because of his book, his legacy and inspiration to all of us will live on.’
Celia Hammond MP (Curtin, WA LP)
‘It’s always difficult to come up with just 10 Australian novels that matter, but it did make me realise what a breadth of talent we have spread across this great, brown land of ours. We have incredible authors whose stories have changed lives not only here in Australia but all around the world…’
Graham Perrett MP (Moreton, QLD ALP)
‘I’d also like to take this time to acknowledge the role that our local libraries play in our communities… Our libraries offer so much more than providing free books—offering courses, literacy programs, school holiday programs and more.’
Bridget Archer MP (Bass, TAS LP)
‘We must support Australian writing to ensure our kids and their kids can see themselves and can hear our distinctive stories and greater diversity in the years to come. In what has been a difficult time, I give a shout-out to all the writers in Australia—not just the famous and successful ones but all the hundreds and hundreds of writers who toil away in the hope of being published one day and who ultimately underpin our vital and diverse Australian literature.’
Josh Wilson MP (Fremantle, WA ALP)
‘Books and learning to read play an important role in literacy skills and early development of children. As a paediatrician and mother of four, some of my most special moments were listening to my children read and seeing their confidence grow, from Possum Magic through to the Harry Potter series…’
Katie Allen MP (Higgins, VIC LP)
‘Books can shape how we think about policy and politics… All leaders should be readers. All of us in the parliament should be reading more.’
Andrew Leigh MP (Fenner, ACT ALP)
For a full transcript of the Australian Reading Hour motion – see the Commonwealth of Australia. House of Representatives. (2021) Parliamentary Debates (Official Hansard).